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How has technology disrupted the Middle East's construction sector?

The increasing uptake of automation, drones, and 3D printing dispels doubts that construction is failing to embrace new tech

Drones are being used to monitor construction sites.
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Drones are being used to monitor construction sites.

Construction technology is transforming the way things are built in the Middle East. While the pace of adoption may be slower in this region when compared to other parts of the world, the rise of technology-driven innovation is irrepressible. Of course, the array of new systems coming to the market all offer significant tangible benefits for contractors.

In the past 12 months, robotics and 3D printing have been utilised on large-scale building sites throughout the region. Drones are also now regularly being put to use. Indeed, UAE contractor ASGC – the firm behind Dubai’s Museum of the Future and the five-star Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah resort – has been using unmanned aerial vehicles for several years.

Technical manager for ASGC, Bassem Bishay, says more than 85% of the company’s projects are monitored using drones, which are deployed to conduct site surveys and regularly monitor progress.

“Drones also take measurements and carry out spot-checks on challenging projects, which enables us to mitigate risks while optimising time and costs,” he says.

Similarly, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) has been using drones to inspect photovoltaic panels for a number of years. In 2015, it launched an initiative to get drones in the air, to improve its ability to monitor the build-up of dust on solar panels.

Bim was meant to be the platform that brings everyone together, but it has not happened yet. It’s slow, painful and, for the most part, it’s being misused, but it is a learning process.

Abdulmajid Karanouh, Drees & Sommer

Excessive levels of sand or dust can impact the efficiency of panels, so using drones is a quick way to check whether cleaning is required on rooftop panels.

Robotics is another technology capturing the imagination of industry heavyweights. UAE construction company ALEC is using robotics for plastering, panel installation, and chasing on Select Group’s three-tower Marina Gate development in Dubai, which has a gross development value of $1bn (AED4bn). The contractor also uses a robotics system to hold façades in place, so workers can fix them from within the building rather than on the outside.

This improves safety for labourers and has helped ALEC cut the time required to install an entire floor of façade panels in half.

There has also been strong uptake of 3D-printing technology in the Middle East’s construction sector. Spanish contractor Acciona began researching 3D concrete printing technology in 2013 and has already built the world’s first 3D-printed concrete bridge in Madrid, Spain.

The firm, which counts large-scale infrastructure projects such as Dubai Metro’s Route 2020 extension among its portfolio, hopes to bring 3D-printing to the GCC this year. This is in line with Dubai’s target for every building in the emirate to be 25% 3D printed by 2025.

For head of advanced interdisciplinary design and innovation at German construction consultancy Drees & Sommer, Abdulmajid Karanouh, building information modeling (Bim) is one technology that has not yet lived up to its full potential.

“Bim was meant to be the platform that brings everyone together, but it has not happened yet,” he says.

“It’s slow, painful and, for the most part, it’s being misused, but it is a learning process. There will be a point where we can simulate, analyse, evaluate, optimise, and plan in the digital environment before we start doing any work in the physical environment.

"That is what Bim was meant to be for. There are opportunities within Bim to maximise the benefits of digital technology. If I had to choose one technology [that will shake up the market,] I would say Bim, but in its real definition, and not what it is at the moment,” he concludes.

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